The Finished Mystery, first published in 1917. Advertised as the posthumous work of Pastor Charles Taze Russell and published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (now known as Jehovah's Witnesses). Book was actually written by C.J. Woodworth and George Fisher and authorized for publication by J.F. Rutherford, second president of the Watch Tower Society. It was considered as Volume 7 of Studies in the Scriptures by those Bible Students who stayed in fellowship with Rutherford. The Finished Mystery is referenced in modern publications of Jehovah's Witnesses as being a landmark book. Best viewed in PDF format.
Very little has been written about the Jehovah’s Witnesses refusal of temporal wars and their draft resistance. This chapter will serve the reader to enlighten and sympathize.
Charles Taze Russell, a Pittsburgh draper, was told by an atheist, accurately, that nowhere in the Judaeo-Christian Bible is there any mention of hell. He went on to build a homegrown American religion around that fact. “Pastor” Russell’s followers became known as the Witnesses of Jehovah.
Russell died in 1916 and in 1917 Joseph Franklin Rutherford, the Society’s legal counsel was elected his successor. In 1918, Rutherford and seven other Watch Tower executives served prison sentences for sedition against the Great War. (We just didn’t know it was the ‘First’.)
The sentences derived from publication of The Finished Mystery based upon Russell’s writings on the prophecies in the Bible’s books of Revelation and Ezekiel. The book became a bestseller and was translated into six languages. Upon his release, Rutherford grew its Watch Tower organization through book sales and door-to-door ministry. The religion was banned outright in Canada in World War I for refusal of its members of all national service.
After “Judge” Rutherford’s death in 1942, the Watch Tower elected Nathan Homer Knorr its president. Under Knorr’s leadership, the Witnesses renounced all forms of organized religion.
Jehovah’s Witnesses swear loyalty only to a theocratic kingdom ruled by God. They reject any duties required by any nation’s citizenship including the flag salute, pledge of allegiance, national anthem, or voting, and are conscientious objectors to any form of military service, including alternative civilian service. Many Witnesses have been jailed, fined, and beaten for their refusal to recognize temporal governments.
40 religious groups were banned in Nazi Germany but Jehovah’s Witnesses were the most extensively persecuted. There were around 20,000 JWs in Germany in 1933 and at least 10,000 were imprisoned up to 1945 for refusal to pledge allegiance to the Fürher Principle, including Witnesses from Germany, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland.
29-year old August Dickmann was the first CO to be executed, by firing squad, at Sachsenhausen concentration camp on September 16, 1939, before all prisoners, including 400 Witnesses. These last were threatened with the same fate; not one renounced their faith.
Of these, 2,500 to 5,000 were sent to Nazi concentration camps, identified by armbands with purple triangles. 1,200 died including 270 who were executed; more than 200 were executed for refusing military service—usually by guillotine or hanging, the largest number of COs executed from any victim group in World War II.
In addition, at least 860 Witness children were removed from their families. Although Witnesses could not be identified by ethnicity such as Jews and Sinti and Romani Gypsies and, unlike these groups, could easily have escaped persecution at any time by renouncing their beliefs, JWs defied torture and death in great numbers for refusing the “Heil Hitler!” salute.
In World War II, Canada banned the Watch Tower Society in 1940 and interned entire Witness families alongside Canadians of Japanese and Chinese ancestry and political dissidents. The Soviet Union sent about 9,300 JWs to Siberian gulags in 1951 and the religion was also banned in Australia. Witnesses suffered widespread persecution and mob violence in those countries.
In addition to these large-scale persecutions, the Witnesses’ military refusal has resulted in their jailing, assaults and bannings in Armenia, Australia, Benin, Bulgaria, Canada, Cuba, France and its protectorates, Georgia, Japan, India, Malawi, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Russia, the Soviet Union, and the United States, many based on JW refusal to salute national flags or stand for national anthems.
The American Civil Liberties Union found by the end of 1940 that 1,500 Witnesses had been beaten, tarred and feathered, hanged, shot, maimed, and even castrated for their refusal. Even the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Witnesses 8-1 in 1940 for failure to salute its flag in schools, though reversing its decision three years later.
JWs are not pacifists as they believe in the right to self-defense and welcome fighting in God’s war of Armageddon. Nevertheless, their witness was the largest during World War II. 4,441 JWs served prison sentences for draft refusal in the United States.
Consider the Witnesses’ witness next time their knock comes to your door or you pass a street corner where a Witness is giving away the JW tracts and Awake! magazine. There are nearly twenty million Witnesses in 184 countries. Ω